With the Memorial Day weekend just days away, work crews were scrambling recently to open Chinook Pass — but their efforts couldn’t match those of Mother Nature.
Historically, the goal has been to open the highway, which connects Western Washington with the Yakima Valley, by the holiday weekend. But, the opening date at Chinook always is dependent on the weather and avalanche conditions.
A week ago, it appeared Chinook’s opening would meet the hoped-for holiday deadline. But continued snowfall, along with the accompanying avalanche danger, stifled plans by the state Department of Transportation.
As of Monday morning, this message was posted on the DOT website: “Maintenance crews on the east side of Mount Rainier have been working hard to clear the roadway and open SR 410 in time for Memorial weekend. This week’s heavy snowfall and increased avalanche danger have extended our opening effort at least a week and Chinook Pass will not open Memorial weekend.”
“While we want folks to enjoy these scenic highways, safety for our crews and drivers is our No. 1 priority,” said Dave McCormick, assistant regional administrator for the state’s Department of Transportation.
Not far from Chinook, DOT maintenance crews opened the scenic Cayuse Pass to vehicle traffic at 8 a.m. Friday, May 19.
As of last week, crews had cleared all of the snow off state Route 410 between Crystal Mountain Boulevard and Cayuse Pass. In addition, they had cleared the snow from SR 123 between Cayuse Pass and the park’s southeastern entrance near Stevens Canyon Road.
Both Chinook and Cayuse passes are closed by the DOT each winter due to abundant snowfall, high avalanche risk, poor road conditions and a lack of emergency response services within close proximity. The passes closed to vehicle traffic on Nov. 23, 2016.
Elsewhere on the mountain, White River Road and Sunrise Park Road via the White River entrance remain closed to vehicles. The road to Sunrise typically opens to vehicle traffic the Friday before the Fourth of July holiday, with the road to White River Campground opening slightly earlier.